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Doug Wrenn

When Is A Child's Self Esteem Too Much?
By Doug Wrenn
Jun 30, 2012 - 3:43:48 AM

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I work long hours on the road covering most of my supposedly "small" state. And yet I continue to see balloons tied to mail boxes in various towns. The balloons, as we now all know at this time of year, are a symbol that a graduate (usually high school) resides in that domicile. But most of the little darlings (many of whom were not exactly Rhodes scholars by means) graduated at least a couple or more weeks ago, so why are all these balloons still hanging around? And why all the hub-bub anyway? Isn't graduating what kids are supposed to do when in school?

I can't recall where, but I remember reading a Bible passage in which we are told not to seek praise for doing what is right. It is simply expected of us. During the Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee only praised his men for heroic acts briefly, and infrequently, in dispatches. He believed they were all heroes and such minimal and modest recognition was enough. Many a young boy fought in that horrific war on both sides. No balloons for them.

My sage old grandmother was right when she said, "Everything comes back." So have those hideous signs from the 80's: "Baby on board" So what? Why is your little drooling offspring so special? What are we adults, chopped liver? Does your precious baby on board produce a paycheck every week? And does that really mean that I can't hit your car now, as if I planned on it in the first place?

Toddlers from ages 1 and up now have outlandish birthday parties with hoards of people (mostly adults) invited, and even professional entertainment. Why? The kid usually has no clue what all the chaos is about, and all he did was have a birthday, like it was some great personal achievement within his control. When the little cherub can wipe his or her own butt, give me a holler.

Seldom a day passes when some minivan, SUV, or (for some strange reason), Volvo station wagon passes me and on its rear bumper I don't see it adorned with this corny type of sticker, usually between decals of a couple soccer balls and maybe something about preserving the environment and saving whales as the driver uses his or her free hand (that's the one not holding the cell phone) to flick a cigarette butt out the window: "My child is an honor student At Elmore J. Snotnose Junior High School." Wow! Boy, I am impressed. Someone, please...give me a breath mint....quick! Can I have his autograph?

Obviously those are the (chardonnay sipping) proud yuppie parents who need the spotlight as much as their equally less than humble rug rats. I think my mother may have included self esteem when she often advised, "Everything in moderation." And today's parents could well benefit from the prudent saying of St. Bernard (No, not the dog!),"Humility is the mother of salvation". The grandparents of today display a more cryptic, yet generic boast on their car bumpers: "Ask me about my grandchildren." No, thanks. As a matter of fact, you would first have my permission to tie me down, drill all my teeth without anesthesia and show me three hours worth of slides of your last vacation to the Jersey Shore before I would ever ask you about your lovely little grandrats!

We hear of teachers not grading papers with red ink any more. And grades are sometimes being given based on how hard the kid tried, rather than how well he produced. Even in youth sports, in some leagues, games are scoreless, and at the end of the year, everyone gets a trophy with their pizza. I don't get it. So, why even bother to exert yourself toward accomplishment? Why strive to succeed when mediocrity is not only expected, but even rewarded?

Kids working the counter in some fast food establishments such as donut shops have tip jars next to the register to reward them for conducting that arduous 45 second business transaction with you. I don't understand...doesn't the boss pay them any more? And now that the register counts change for them, why can't they still manage to focus enough to get my simple order right?

Riddle: How can you tell a modern day high school prom from a wedding? Answer: Air Force One does not land at high school proms (YET!). Have you noticed these grandiose shindigs lately? Privately hired limos are provided so now the drunken little debutantes can puke in the finest comfort! As a parent, how do you top that, come wedding time ? (And you just know Daddy's picking up that tab!)

I see kids ("Kids"????) well into their 20's, 30's, and even 40's still living at home with Mommy and Daddy now. Yeah, yeah, I know, the crappy economy.

I work with high school and college age kids, and for all the time they spend on their cell phones, it's usually Mommy calling to make all the arrangements and smooth out any bumps for Junior. And in talking to these kids, they are convinced that their Bachelor's Degree should guarantee them to a mid management job right out of college and are traumatized to find out that no one but a retail store or burger joint will consider their application for employment. Then again, given the fact that more kids attend college now, a "BS" degree is pretty much worth just that, "BS", and what a high school diploma once was. Now, these little wiz kids best have a Masters Degree, and for that matter, they best also have actually "mastered" something!

Not to blow my own horn, but let's now rewind to the day when Moses still donned a training toga, and when the Red Sea was but a pink pond.

When I graduated, I got a card with some money in it, relatives came back to the house, gave me a few hugs and handshakes (Oh yeah, and the aunts from the Italian side of the family pinched my cheeks.....because that's just what they do!) and we had cake and coffee. After a few hours they all went home, and the next day, I was out looking for a job. P.S.- no balloons!

"Baby on board"? On family drives, my head was sticking out the window as I knelt on the back seat. "Seat belts"? And if this "baby" misbehaved, Dad, the poster child of multi-tasking, could reach into the backseat, give me a back hand and keep steering on course with the other hand. (This, of course was during the blissful period before the invention of cell phones!)

As for birthday parties, well, see "Graduations," above. Enough said.

As both a parent, and a grandparent, my Dad's car bumper consisted only of chrome (Yes, they were really chrome back then!), no paper, no adhesives, and no bragging about his kids or grandkids. You don't care. He knew it. He respected it, and by the way, he probably didn't care about yours, either. As for political opinions, he had plenty of them. If you wanted to know, all you need do was ask, but he didn't gratuitously advertise, either. My Dad drove an ill Ford, but definitely not a billboard.

In school, I was an honor student. My parents and teachers knew I had the potential, and nothing less was accepted, period. (Well, not so much in Math, which is why I write instead of count!) Teachers had red ink. They used red ink and students were wise to avoid receiving red ink. And speaking of counting, in our games, there were scores, they counted, and everyone strived to be a winner, but sportsmanship (and not an obligatory trophy) was still always extended to the loser.

There was no tip jar in my burger joint. The cash register didn't count change for us, and we still had to actually listen to the customer's order, pay attention to what we were doing, and then get it right. Wow! What a concept! Back then, the customer was always right, the boss was always watching, and self esteem was called a paycheck.

Proms? See "Ill Ford," above, and if any puking was involved, it damn better well have been from food poisoning, because Dad was both chaperone and driver! (At least I didn't have to tip him!)

My wife and I paid for our own wedding. My Mom and Dad bought us a gift. And we were grateful.

When I was 18, I approached my Dad and informed him that as I am now a legal adult, I no longer had to listen to him. Without missing a beat, he replied (verbatim), "My house, my rules, and if you don't like it, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out." As they say in chess, "Check...and mate!" I didn't like Dad's answer, but I got it, and a couple or so years later, I did move out, and I don't even remember the door hitting me in the ass on the way out. And being that it was the twilight of the Carter era years, the economy was in the tank then, too, and most "tanks" were often nearly empty! And at one point, I worked four jobs simultaneously, and not because it was my idea of a good time, either.

Much like my own wedding, I paid my own college tuition in full, albeit, several years later. And fresh out of college, I had no misconceptions of where I fit in on the ladder: it was the bottom, which actually worked out really well, because that was precisely where I wound up! I never recall feeling any sense of entitlement. What I did feel was the need to shut up, watch, listen, learn, work hard and prove myself in time. And I did, all of them.

When there was a problem (such as the time the heat went out in my apartment and the landlord refused to do anything about it), I didn't call Mommy. I called the local Health Department. Mommy might have impressed my landlord, but the local regulatory bureaucrats got him off his cheap, lazy, apathetic ass and produced some results. (Yes, I was pretty feisty back then, too!)

My parents were loving, but also tough. They had standards and didn't except excuses. And self esteem wasn't given to you. It was simply nurtured. You earned it on your own, by learning (from them) how to be honest, decent, industrious, strong, and independent. Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw penned a book entitled "The Greatest Generation," referring to folks from my parents era, who endured the Great Depression and World War II with resolve and not a whimper. Brokaw was dead on about them. But now most of them have died or are not far from it. So what's next?

Many of our "kids" today are actually adults, well, legally speaking anyway. Admittedly, they don't all fit under the broad brush I paint, by far too many of them do. Some day, if not already, they will learn the hard way that Mommy and Daddy will no longer be around and the boss is far more obsessed with results than their precious self esteem. I can't help but believe that the many types of "wars" these protected little bubble dwellers will encounter will produce a far greater "depression."

And I don't see the tide turning. The Supreme Court today upheld the very unconstitutional, and unsustainable "Obama Care" bill. And thus, the entitlement mentality lives on until our eventual self-imposed demise, as dictated by history by every previous free society that has followed the exact same path as us into collapse, oblivion, and even tyranny. We've just miraculously managed to somehow hang around just a little bit longer. But to quote Yogi Berra, "It's deja vue all over again!"

They just didn't have balloons back then.

Doug Wrenn


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